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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Diseases of Language              441
pronoun had still distinct forms in the nominative and accusative in the
latter part of the Chou Dynasty (1122 B c -A.D 249)
Unfortunately the ideographic nature of Chinese script prevents us
from getting any information about the phonetic pattern of the lan-
guage through its ancient literature. Knowledge of the structure and
pronunciation of ancient Chinese is largely based on the sister-language
Tibetan.) with hteiary documents dating from the seventh century A D.
These documents were transcribed in an alphabetic script of Hindu
origin From what they disclose, and from evidence based on rhymes,
corroborated by comparison of various modern Chinese dialects,
scholars now conclude that the language of nfona has a disyllabic,
inflected past. If their reasoning is correct, Chinese and English may
be said to have travelled along the same road at different epochs of
human history or pre-history
This prompts us to ask whether the future evolution of Anglo-
American may lead to greater similarities between the two languages,
and if so, with what consequences We have seen that Chinese has one
gross defect. It has an immense number of homophones, and it is not
sympathetic to the manufacture of new vocables by the use of affixes,
or to importation of technical terms of alien origin Fortunately, there
is no likelihood that English would reproduce these defects, if it came
still closer to Chinese by dropping its last vestiges of useless flexions
English has two safeguards against impoverishment of meaning by
depletion of its vocable resources One is that it is constantly coining
new technical terms by combination of borrowed affixes with native or
alien roots The other is that its inherent phonetic peculiarities permit
an immense variety of monosyllables. So its stock of separate pro-
nounceable elements would still be relatively enormous, even if all of
them were monosyllables
In various parts of the world intercourse between Europeans and
indigenous peoples has given birth to contact vernaculars The best
known are Beach-la-Mar of the western Pacific, Pidgin English of the
Chinese ports, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, etc, and the French
patois of Mauritius, Madagascar, and the West Coast of Africa The
formative process has been the same for each of them. Partly from
contempt, partly from an ill-founded belief that he is making things
easier for the native, the white man addresses the latter in the trun-
cated idiom of mothers—or lovers Some people drop into such